Early on in my gardening journey, I noticed something strange happening to my tomatoes which caused me to do a lot of research. Since then it is a question I get all the time from beginner gardeners and that question is, “Why do my tomatoes split, and what can I do to prevent it?”
There are two main reasons tomatoes split. Wide fluctuations in temperature in the Spring can be one reason tomatoes split, this generally causes splitting in green tomatoes. However, the most common reason tomatoes split, especially ripe tomatoes, is due to heavy rain after several dry days.
Tomatoes are a favorite of most gardeners, we want a bunch of them, a wide variety of them and we want to try and grow them to maturity without any disease or blemish issues if possible. We take pride in our tomatoes, that’s why it’s a little heartbreaking when we see our nearly perfect beauties tarnished with a big ‘ol split down the side or circles of cracks around the top.
A Deeper Look at Why Tomatoes Split
The epidermis (outer skin of the tomato) hardens during a slow growth period, such as caused by a dry spell or period of cooler temperatures, and then has a sudden growth spurt after an environmental change, such as sudden heavy rain or higher temperature. This can cause tears in the epidermis in a couple of ways; radial cracks that look as if the tomato is splitting in half can occur from the stem to the blossom end of the tomato.
The sudden growth spurt can also cause circular cracks, which appear as concentric rings between the stem end and the shoulders of the fruit; this seems to happen more in the larger varieties of tomatoes. This type of cracking is also a genetic characteristic in some varieties that cannot be prevented and result in circular scars around the top of the tomato.
What Can Be Done To Prevent Tomatoes From Splitting?
I have found that putting down a thick layer of wood mulch around my tomatoes or using a mulch film helps to retain moisture in the soil, which prevents the fluctuation of water taken in by the plant and even helps with the regulation of soil temperature. By controlling these two things, it really helps to prevent tomatoes from splitting.
Maintaining a consistent watering schedule and being careful not to overwater in dry times also helps to prevent splitting. When your plants aren’t shocked by the sudden uptake of water after being dry for a long time, the tomatoes are able to grow and expand at a normal rate without bursting open. In an area with inconsistent rainfall, a drip irrigation system can help to keep your tomato plants properly hydrated.
Grow Them In Soil With Good Drainage
If you are planting in soil that doesn’t have heavy water retention and drains well, it can help keep the plants from taking up to much water. These soil conditions can be attained by adding plenty of organic material to the soil during off-season amending. Growing your tomatoes in Raised Garden Beds with a good soil mix can also really help with this.
Grow Resistant Varieties
Some tomato varieties are highly susceptible to cracking and splitting. While many of these varieties do it in a way that does not harm the fruit (some may even say the circle cracks around the top of the tomato give it character), some are prone to bursting wide open, ruining the tomato if left exposed too long. Lucky for us, some varieties are resistant to cracking and splitting.
Some Popular Crack Resistant Tomato Varieties
- Jet Star VF Hybrid
- Pink Girl VFT Hybrid
- Monte Carlo VFN Hybrid
- Mountain Fresh VF Hybrid
- Mountain Spring VFF Hybrid
- Spitfire VFFA Hybrid
Pick Them Before It Happens
One of the best ways to prevent splits from happening is to pick your tomatoes before it happens. When the conditions are prime for this happening, like a dry spell with a big rainstorm on its way, get out there and pick any tomatoes that are ripe or near ripe and let them finish ripening on the kitchen counter.
Are Split Tomatoes Okay To Eat?
Most split tomatoes are fine to eat by simply removing the part of the tomato that has the split or scar. The real problem is that the crack or split allows an opening for insects to attack your fruit which can quickly ruin it. Also, if tomatoes with long side splits are left very long on the vine in this condition, it can speed up the rotting process. Most tomatoes with cracks around the top of the tomato will heal up and develop scars that are harmless and can just be cut off when eating the tomato.
If your tomatoes are severely scarred and would require too much cutting away of the tomato, consider using them for making products like tomato juice and other processed foods that remove the pulp and skins from the product. Even ugly tomatoes can have a place on the homestead.
Homegrown Tomatoes Are Worth The Trouble
Growing tomatoes in the home garden can be both one of the most rewarding and most challenging of the foods you choose to grow, but I couldn’t imagine leaving it off the list of must-have garden goodies. So face the challenges, overcome the problems, conquer all the common issues you will face as a tomato grower and plant those seeds, tend those plants, pick that fruit and enjoy this wonderful globe of goodness.
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